State Apparatuses By Antonio Gramsci

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I have been for the most part skeptical about whether Louis Althusser’s essay on state apparatuses accomplishes anything not previously explained in more humanistic and less functionalist terms by Antonio Gramsci. Indeed, although there appears to be a clear divergence between the two insofar as Gramsci associates ideological work with civil society whereas Althusser locates it in the state, even this distinction is not as stark in light of certain passages in Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Gramsci’s historically specific analysis of domination through hegemony simply seemed to me to constitute a social theory that better accounts for contingency, agency, and change. After further reflection, however, it also clear to me that we can improve upon it by incorporating Althusser’s useful references to materiality and production.

Before explaining Althusser’s contribution to theories of ideology and the state, it is necessary to review Gramsci’s own writings on the topic, particularly since his definition of the state and its functions varies a great deal within his fragmented notes from 1929-1936. The particular conception with which Gramsci is perhaps most associated is found in “State and Civil Society”—the dichotomous title of which is highly suggestive—in which he describes the state as “the coercive and punitive force of juridical regulation of a country.” It was Gramsci’s attention to ideological struggles in the voluntary associations and private institutions of
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